This is an alternate universe historical romance. I think I said it was set in medieval Scotland, but it’s more like Renaissance, heh — early 1500s, just before the Reformation (I KNOW I KNOW I’M VERY OCD ABOUT HISTORICAL TERMS).
Very few of the names on GH are historical accurate to the time period or place, but I promise not to let it hurt my head if you promise to whistle past a Scottish laird named Jason. K? K. Cool.
Written in 52 minutes. Time for basic spell check.
Edinburgh, Scotland – 1514
The Royal Mile
Jason Morgan had only been invited twice to the royal capital since taking over the leadership of his clan — and neither invitation had been welcomed. Like any respecting Highland warrior, he preferred the hills and forests of his own land, not the pomp and circumstance of the monarchy.
But this was no longer the times of his grandfather or great-grandfather before him, when Highland chieftains could reign autonomously, and ignore anything outside their borders. Not with England encroaching every day — with an English princess marrying their Scottish king —
“Married the Angus,” his second, Francis, snorted at his side. He reigned in the horse as they turned down a street with market stalls and more people. “What a bloody stupid thing to do. Women—”
“At least he isn’t the regent,” Johnny O’Brien, the third of their trio said. “That must have stunned the Angus — married to the queen and none of the power.” He shook his head. “Poor bastard.”
Jason turned, cast a dark eye at both his clansmen. “Careful what you say and where,” he said flatly. “We haven’t had trouble with the Angus or the Douglases in a generation. I don’t care for them to remember the past.”
“Aye, well, if he’d been named regent instead of Albany,” Francis said with a sneer, “we’d have trouble right quick—”
They rode to the livery and turned over their horses, then went to seek rooms at the Red Lion just off the Royal Mile.
While Jason might not say it out loud, Francis was right to suspect that matters for the Morgans might have gone badly if Archibald Douglas, the sixth earl of Angus, had found himself with the powers of the regency upon marriage to Margaret Tudor, the widowed Scottish queen. Instead, control of the young James V had gone to John Stewart, Duke of Albany.
Jason’s father had courted woman that a Douglas had wanted — and while Alan Morgan had ultimately married another, Douglas men didn’t like to lose, and blamed the Morgan for the lass in question leaving Scotland for the royal court in London.
Archibald and his brothers didn’t seem to remember that, and Jason had every hope that the rivalry had died with their fathers.
All the same — best that the Angus wasn’t the regent with the powers of the king.
A few streets from the Red Lion, another Scottish family was checking into a larger, more stately set of lodgings. These were not a Highland clan, but a minor gentry from the Lowlands — might as well as be Sassanachs, some people sneered of the Lowland Webbers — indeed, their name was English as Jeffrey Webber’s forefathers had settled in Dumfries during a period when the county had been in English control.
A long ago Scottish king had ousted the invaders, and Dumfries had returned to the Scottish crown — but the Webbers had stayed.
Elizabeth Webber, the youngest of the baron’s three children, rode down the street with wide eyes — she had never traveled to the court before, but this time, her father hadn’t a choice. The new regent wanted to take stock of all the noble daughters and form alliances through marriage.
Elizabeth didn’t have much hope of being chosen for such an alliance—not while her elder sister, Sarah, was still unmarried. Classically beautiful with her blonde hair and blue eyes, tall and slender—Sarah was the perfect child.
And Elizabeth was the short, brunette freak that few people had even met.
“When we meet with the regent tomorrow,” Jeffrey snapped as he herded Elizabeth into the smallest of the rooms he’d rented, “you will not speak. You will stand behind your brother, and God willing, the regent will forget I have two daughters.”
Elizabeth dipped her chin, looking at the wooden floor. “Yes, Father.”
“If we are fortunate—no one will ever know what you are. And we will go home, and you will return to your life there.” His voice gentled slightly. “You will be protected there.”
Protected. Such a strange way to describe the life Elizabeth lived in Annan, her family’s estate. Locked in her room.
“You mean you will be protected,” Elizabeth said in a low voice. She raised her eyes to met her father’s. “No one will know your shame.”
Jeffrey’s mouth was tight. “We both have the same goal, Daughter. If you were discovered—”
“Aye, Father. I know.” Elizabeth folded her arms. “I will not speak unless the regent speaks directly to me.”
“Good. Stay here until we leave for the court in the morning,” Jeffrey told her. “I will bring your meals. The fewer people see you, the better we will be.”
He left the room, slamming it behind her. Elizabeth took in her surroundings, sighed at the lack of a window, but at least there was a cot and a table where she could sit. It could have been worse.
It often had been.
The next afternoon, Jason and his men were on the grounds of Holyrod Palace, awaiting their turn to speak and swear oaths of loyalty under the new regency — a useless exercise and one of the reasons Jason avoided the royal court like the plague.
He was grimacing at two idiots attempting to spar without an ounce of skill or training when a royal messenger appeared at his side. “Laird, His Grace, the Duke of Albany, wishes to speak with you. Now. Privately.”
Jason frowned, turned to the man with a suspicious glare. “Privately?” he repeated. “Why?”
“I cannot say, Laird. Only that he asks for your patience, discretion, and speed.” The messenger eyed Johnny and Francis ranging behind Jason. “Your men should remain here.”
“I don’t like it,” Francis hissed to Jason. “You’re unprotected—”
“And Albany has no quarrel with me.” Jason nodded at the messenger. “Lead the way.”
He followed the other man through a byzantine set of hallways, towards the interior of the palace and what Jason suspected to be the royal family’s private apartments.
“My Laid, the regent awaits you.” The messenger bowed, pushing open the door. Jason shook his head at the strangeness of the encounter, then focused on the room itself — a standard, nondescript meeting room.
John Stewart, the Duke of Albany was standing in the center, a tall, thin man who had seen only three and thirty years — and two strangers to Jason — a man and a woman — He instinctively narrowed his eyes, spying the tight hold the man had on the woman’s upper arm.
She was tiny, no higher than the man’s shoulder—brown curls peeked out of the headdress she wore, and her eyes were trained on the man holding —
She was frightened.
Jason scowled. “What is this, Your Grace?” he demanded. If this girl was attempting to entrap him into a marriage through some lie—
“Morgan.” Albany swept him forward. “Allow me to present one of my fiercest warriors,” he said to the pair across the room.
“I beg you, Your Grace, allow me to take my daughter away. I will take her home and you will never—”
“Hush, Baron,” Albany snapped. “The die has been cast. Jason Morgan is a Highland chieftain with a large holding in the north. And loyal to me. Am I wrong?” he turned to Jason.
“Nay,” Jason said, warily. “But I don’t—”
“This Baron Jeffrey Webber, and his youngest child, Elizabeth. How many summers have you, dear?” Albany asked the girl with a silky smile.
She swallowed hard. “Nineteen, Your Grace,” she said in a soft voice. “But my sister—”
“I have no need to worry about your sister,” Albany said with a shake of his hand. “And Baron, release her—”
“I—” The baron looked down at his hand where it was digging into the girl—Elizabeth’s—upper arm. He released her with almost a thrust and she stumbled away from him. She rubbed her upper arm, and now she was close enough that Jason could see tracks of tears on her cheeks.
“Elizabeth has done a service to crown here today,” Albany told Jason. “And in return, I would like to see her rewarded with an alliance to a man worthy of that service.”
They spoke at the same time — Jason with a roar of surprise, and Elizabeth with a shaken gasp. But it was the baron who was shaking his head.
“I cannot allow this, Your Grace. My elder daughter is much more suited—”
“Your eldest daughter is of no use to me,” Albany retorted. Jason narrowed his eyes at that, and Elizabeth just closed her eyes, folded her arms, and looked at the stone floor. “You will have to find another alliance for her.”
“Your Grace,” Jason began again, concerned that he was about to get in the middle of royal intrigue — a state of affairs he most certainly did not want to be involved in.
“‘Tis unnecessary, Your Grace,” Elizabeth said, her voice a bit stronger. She looked up now, her chin lifted. “I thank you for the honor—” She chanced a glance at him—then her eyes stayed on locked on his for a long moment before she looked back at the regent. “But I promise you, my father has—he has protected me all these years. I will be safe in Annan.”
There was something in the way she’d said those words—something that twisted Jason’s stomach — what did she mean that her father had protected her? What service?
“Do you not want a family, dear?” Albany asked, stalking towards her. “Are you uninterested in children?”
“I—” Elizabeth swallowed hard. “No. I should like a family. B-But—”
“Then we are well met. Jason has need of a wife—”
Jason frowned, but the regent ignored him. “And you are well above the age of marriage. Indeed, it is strange that none of your children have wed, Baron.” Albany arched a brow at him. “Have you been keeping them under lock and key in Annan?”
Elizabeth started at that, then quickly looked away as her father looked her furiously — and there it was — that strange feeling that something was not right. Is that what she’d meant about being protected? Had her father locked her up? Why?
“Of course not. I am merely careful with my children,” the baron said stiffly.
“Then allow me to reduce your problems. The ceremony will take place in St. Giles on the morn.” Albany turned away from them, sweeping his hand. “And that is the end of it.”
“Your Grace,” Jason began again, but then subsided when Albany merely arched a brow at him. He looked at Elizabeth, then at her father, and nodded. “I will be at the chapel,” he said tightly. “Am I dismissed, Your Grace?”
“Yes. Thank you, Morgan. You will see in time. I’ve done you a great favor.”
Jason didn’t look at his bride-to-be or her father as he left the room. Whatever secrets this girl was keeping — he could only pray that would not lead his clan into danger.